A woman walks past a tile mosaic mural on the wall of Salud Para l Gente on East Beach Street by Salinas artist Jose Ortiz. —Tarmo Hannula/The Pajaronian

The Watsonville City Council at its Tuesday night meeting solidified its decision to implement a new fee on development projects that would fund the arts in Watsonville.

Soon, developers seeking to create commercial and residential projects will have to pay 0.75% of their project’s valuation, with a cap of $75,000. The proceeds will go into a Cultural Fund that will finance the creation of new public art and a public art master plan, a document that will serve as a roadmap for Watsonville’s artists to follow for years to come.

The council approved the fee unanimously on its first reading on April 26, but the item returned to the elected leaders on Tuesday because of significant alterations to the original ordinance. 

Originally, staff recommended the council implement a 0.25% fee with the ability for developers to opt out by creating their own public art piece, donating artwork or incorporating a cultural facility into their projects.

Councilman Jimmy Dutra in last month’s meeting led the effort to nix the opt-out option, and Councilwoman Rebecca Garcia made the motion to increase the fee percentage.

But staff on Tuesday again said that the increased percentage might serve as a barrier to developers who already face numerous challenges such as a dwindling labor force, supply chain issues and increasing inflation.

Garcia stayed true to her initial motion on Tuesday, moving forward with the 0.75% fee and removing the opt-out option.

Moments before the vote, Dutra and Councilman Eduardo Montesino suggested they lower the cap to $50,000, move the collection of the fee to after the project is completed—instead of before building permits are pulled—and that the fee also apply to city-backed projects. Those suggestions echoed advice from developer Bill Hansen, who spoke during public comment.

But those changes never made it before the council for a vote, and Garcia’s motion passed 5-2, with Mayor Ari Parker and Dutra voting “no.”

The fee is part of phase 2 of the city’s Public Arts Program. The first phase, approved by the council in 2019, established an approval process for community-initiated public art that has been implemented several times over the past three years. The second phase covers the art funded—either fully or partially—by the city. 

If the fee was in place in 2021, the city would have raked in $416,042 in payments to the cultural fund.

The fee will apply to all new residential development of five or more units (including affordable housing) and all commercial and industrial developments with a building valuation of $500,000 or more and all remodels with a valuation of $250,000 or more. 

The approval also included the creation of a Public Art Advisory Committee appointed by the parks commission and approved by the city council.

About three dozen people spoke in favor of the fee during public comment, many of whom became emotional while speaking about what increased investment in the arts could mean for the area’s youth.

“You will see the great impact in our communities … you will see what you have created tonight,” said Angelica Navarro. “You will get kids away from gangs, from violence. Because the kids that are occupied in something healthy, grow up to be healthy.”

Military use policy

In other news, the council voted to delay the approval of Watsonville Police Department’s military equipment policy

The move came after councilwoman Garcia questioned whether the city had met its legal requirements for public hearings.

As it typically does, city staff placed the second reading of the new policy on its consent agenda. Garcia, however, said that this did not follow with the spirit of Assembly Bill 481, a new state law that requires law enforcement agencies to, among other things, publicly disclose this list of military weapons, draft a policy of how and when these weapons will be used and report to the Watsonville City Council whenever it does deploy them.

But City Attorney Samantha Zutler said that the municipality did indeed meet its requirements for public hearings by holding a previous hearing in which they approved the policy in its first reading on April 26 and Tuesday’s second reading.

The council, however, supported Garcia’s motion to hold another public hearing run by WPD Assistant Chief Tom Sims at a future time.

About a dozen people, many of whom attended the first public hearing last month, asked the council to delay the decision, and rewrite some of the policy to make it clearer on when officers are allowed to use the department’s military weapons, which include nearly two dozen high-powered rifles, a few shotguns, thousands of rounds of ammunition and dozens of less-lethal and “crowd control” weapons such as flashbangs, rubber grenades and a grenade launcher and chemical agents such as tear gas.

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Tony Nuñez is a longtime member of the Watsonville community who served as Sports Editor of The Pajaronian for five years and three years as Managing Editor. He is a Watsonville High, Cabrillo College and San Jose State University alumnus.


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